Monday, July 28, 2014

Richard Branson Tells Businesses to Embrace Social Media as Part of the Recipe to Success

By Richard Branson
photo credit: D@LY3D via photopin cc

Excerpt from Richard Branson: 'There's No Shortcut or Magic Recipe to Success',

Read the full article here


Tools like Twitter and Facebook are wonderful ways to get your message out to a wide audience. Social media is not only more cost-efficient than advertising, but it also offers great opportunities for innovative engagement with your customers. Use it to your advantage.

Remember that there is a difference between selling and marketing. In my experience, selling a product through social media doesn’t work -- it’s better to simply communicate with your customers in an authentic way and have fun. As you build an online profile that people can identify with and trust, you’ll find that they will soon become customers.

The feedback you receive on social media can be invaluable, especially when your business is just starting out. Listen to your customers’ comments about your company’s offerings to gain an understanding of what you are doing right and wrong. You can also use this feedback to sharpen your social campaigns and measure the effectiveness of your calls to action.

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

7 Lessons Learned from A Failed Business Partnership

Even though this article is technically about a business partnership, the dynamic is not dissimilar to that between a small business owner and a marketer. The marketer is sort of like the "Number One" on a starship. Think Lieutenant Riker and Captain Picard. ~ Catharine

By Liudas Butkus
Photo from Firepole Marketing

Do you often feel that you need a second opinion before doing something?

Have you outlined a great business plan, but you don’t feel confident enough to do it alone?

Would you rather bring your business idea to fruition faster?

Is the workload too big for you, but you can’t outsource, because you don’t have the money?

If you answered “Yes!” to at least a few of these questions, then you might benefit from having a business partner.

I answered yes to those questions just over two years ago, when I met my business partner.

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about partnerships – what works, what doesn’t – and I wanted to pass on those lessons learned. These insights will be beneficial for you if you’re thinking about forming a business partnership, or if you’re already in a partnership.

The Power of the Internet

Around two years ago I started a business partnership with a young lady from the other side of the globe. She seemed to have a lot of experience in business. And me? Well, I was an inexperienced, self-taught marketer, still trying to figure out what was what in the online business world. Joining forces looked like a good opportunity for both of us to learn together and grow a business online

We started working on building an online business in the self-improvement niche. We communicated through Skype and to this day, I haven’t met her in person. That’s the power of the internet: you can build a business with someone without even meeting them.

We launched our business by creating our first product. The goal was to make one million dollars in a year. I remember being a bit skeptical about it, but a million dollars is hard to ignore. I started dreaming of the car I’d buy with the money we earned.

To make a long story short, we made 5 sales of our $47 product, and everyone refunded. This is when I realized that my business partner and I were pretty much at the same level of experience – both still trying to figure out the whole online business thing. The difference was that I wasn’t as ambitious as my partner.

We kept on working, building our list, making some money here and there, until very recently we decided to split the roads and start working by ourselves.
Lessons Learned & Insights Gained

Although our partnership didn’t hit it big, I learned a lot about what it takes to make a business partnership work. If you’re thinking about a partnership, here’s what you need to watch out for.

1. Take Care of the Legal Stuff

Okay. This sounds pretty obvious, but - you need to take care of the paper work when you form a partnership. My partner and I didn’t do this, I think for several reasons:

I didn’t think the business was going to make it big, so I didn’t feel the need to spend money and time on getting a legal agreement. (Note: our business started being profitable only after a year or so.)

I was under 18 years old so, I imagined the paperwork would be super complicated, having to get my parents to sign agreements, etc.

My partner was from another country, and I imaged that would make the paperwork even more complicated.

Instead of getting our legal ducks in a row, we worked under a word agreement that we are going to split the profits 50/50. Not a good idea… Definitely make sure to take care of all the legal documents, if you are in a serious partnership.

2. Don’t Do the Same Thing Twice

A necessary component for a successful partnership is trust in your partner’s skills. You need to be confident that he or she can do a good job and you shouldn’t question it, or revise their work over and over. This wasn’t really an issue for us at the beginning, but we sure did question each other’s competence towards the end!

For example, towards the end of our partnership, a simple task of sending an email to our list, which could take no longer than 15-30 minutes, became tiring work for a whole hour. I wrote the email, then she wanted to look at it. She made her edits, I usually disagreed with some of them, and a discussion started about how a single paragraph should be worded. In the end, we end up with a slightly better email, but we spent double the time and energy on it. Personally, that was driving me crazy.

It’s not necessary to do the same work twice. If you really think the project needs some tweaks, let your partner know, but don’t make it your job to manage his or her work.

3. Have a Clear Business Plan

This is another obvious one, but it’s definitely one we overlooked: you need to come up with a business plan. All the actions you take should be in alignment with the plan.

My business partner and I didn’t have a plan at first, because we didn’t know how our business would grow or evolve. In the beginning, we focused on our desired income, and not on how we would get there. Later, once we got a bit more experience, we came up with a simple plan and decided on some key places to focus on. We managed to get ahead quite a bit, because we weren’t so scattered and wondering around aimlessly.

Your business plan doesn’t need to be super complicated. In fact, its main objective is to provide guidance for all your actions so that you can evaluate what you are doing. It’s easy to stop and ask if your business plan is going according to plan, or whether you’ve gotten off track.

4. Give Your Undivided Focus and Demand the Same From Your Partner

One of the big problems that held us back was our divided attention. Both of us were still at school and of course that took up a lot of our time. Also, I spent some of my time working on my internet marketing business as a plan B, in case our partnership doesn’t work out. So, I didn’t have a lot of time left to work on our mutual business and that led to poor results overall.

Now, you need money to live and, if your business isn’t profitable yet, you will need to work in a 9 to 5 job to provide that income. If this is your situation, it would be hard to give your undivided attention to a mutual business and that’s fine. It simply means that now may not be the best time to start a business – or a business partnership!

In my case, I should have stopped working on my own internet marketing business. I should have focused on our mutual business; it would have made a great difference to our results.

The lesson here is twofold. First, don’t spread yourself too thin – you’ll be setting yourself up for sub-par results. And second, you need to demand the same kind of focus from your partner. After all, you don’t want to be the only one working, do you?

5. Hold Monthly Meetings

In the beginning of our partnership, we didn’t plan any sort of meeting. But we found out pretty quickly that stuff changes fast, and you need to do frequent course corrections for your business. Once we started holding monthly meetings to discuss what was working, what wasn’t, and where we could focus next, we started to see fast growth.

Our monthly meetings went like this: Before each meeting, we made ourselves short checklists of topics that needed to be covered. On the day of the meeting, we both logged into Skype and started a conference call. We usually began our meetings by checking out our stats: how much our list had grown, what strategies had the biggest impact, how much money did we have in our bank account, etc.

Next, we would evaluate the other person’s work, giving praise and critique where needed. The last part of our meeting was devoted to adjusting our goals and our plans on how to achieve them.

There are probably other meeting formats out there, but this one worked really well for us. Once we started implementing it, our business started to grow much faster. I’m betting yours will too.

6. Create Daily To-Do Lists

Two teenagers busy with school and other activities can be very unproductive! Once we realized that, we started experimenting with how to get things done. We wrote down daily tasks for each other to do, and all the tasks were focused on growing our business (write a blog post, send an email to our list, etc). We discussed those lists in our monthly meetings.

A daily to-do list can also be useful if you are a solopreneur. I’m rediscovering this for myself right now and my productivity has increased a lot. I think the daily to-do lists would have worked out very well for our partnership. But, I couldn’t keep up with the tasks, mainly because I spread myself too thin: second business, school, social life etc.

Most entrepreneurs have a lot going on in their lives, so it’s important to both divvy up the tasks of growing your business, and to hold each other accountable for getting them done.

7. You Can’t Be Lazy In a Partnership

In my opinion, the main reason why my business partner and I split up was because I was being lazy. I wasn’t bringing much to the table. I didn’t do much for the business, didn’t follow the daily to-do list and was behind on other schedules, because I was focusing on too many things.

It wasn’t fair to my partner, who was struggling to grow the business without my full presence or support. And it wasn’t fair to me, since I constantly felt like I had way too much to do.

In the end, we agreed to split up and go our separate ways.

Moving Forward: Life as a Soloprenuer

As I mentioned before, my business partner and I hadn’t taken care of all the legal stuff. Because of that, when our business split up the asset division was not in my favor – hugely not in my favor, I would say.

Nevertheless, these two years have been heck of a learning experience. Even though our partnership failed, I still think it’s a very good way of building a business fast. If I were to form a partnership these days I would definitely do it a lot differently.

Are you in a partnership right now? Would you add anything else to the list? If you are just thinking about forming a partnership, which insight was the one that you wouldn’t have thought about?

Liudas Butkus is a young entrepreneur passionate about self-improvement and the internet, and whose specialty is in traffic generation. You can find his blog at or connect with him on Google+. If you're interested in learning more about traffic generation, grab his free report: Easy Traffic Guidebook.

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Google+ Tips to Improve Your Networking

By Wade Harman

Are you wondering how to meet more people on Google+?

Do you want to find and connect with influencers?

Google+ offers important networking opportunities that set the stage for future partnerships.

In this article I’ll share five ways to cultivate Google+ relationships.

#1: Identify Industry Influencers Fast

I truly love to use NOD3x with my Google+ account. NOD3x is Ripples on steroids with a magnifying glass. It brings you right to the doorstep of people you want to meet.

We’re all looking to build connections with the right people. To show you how NOD3x simplifies that task, go to the site and type in the phrase “relationship marketing” and within five seconds the tool lists all of the influencers posting about that phrase.

Just like that, you have new people to check out and add to circles so you can follow them and start the relationship process.

NOD3x helps you find influencers associated with specific phrases.

This video gives you a better feel for the Nod3x dashboard and how easy it is to find like-minded people and influencers.

Just remember: No tool is a substitute for you. A tool can’t be kind and friendly to people, and it can’t establish your credibility. Your personal touch is a must.

#2: Find Hidden Engagement Opportunities

Google+ is an ideal place for producing and promoting content. As people begin engaging with that content, keep track of them in a new circle called New Engagers.

While that new circle helps you keep up with the people who interacted obviously with your content (e.g., you can see they left a comment or mentioned you in a share), there may be other people and interactions you can’t see. Google Ripples helps you find those interactions.

Search Ripples to find new people to connect with.

For example, when readers share or reshare your content, they don’t always plus mention you (+username—it’s like tagging), so you won’t necessarily know they’ve shared your content. By using Google Ripples, you can see those interactions and include those people in your New Engagers circle.

In the image above, none of the people with the arrows pointing at them plus mentioned my name. Without Google Ripples I may have missed an opportunity to connect with them.

#3: Validate Expertise With Helpful Tips

Relationship marketing should be your top priority on Google+. Do what you can to help others succeed.

Promotion of anything—even self-promotion—is an ongoing task. Constant and blatant self-promotion, though, is a bad idea. Be subtler than that and come up with a commenting strategy to engage with other people’s Google+ posts.

Comment on others’ posts with helpful information.

That means diving head-first into engagement on other people’s updates. Find posts from different people in your target market and converse with them. Answer questions, offer advice or just keep things moving with thoughtful questions.

When others see how friendly and helpful you are, it draws them to you—cementing you as a resource.

#4: Engage Like-Minded People

It’s easiest to start building your relationships with people you already know, but not in the way you may think. Look at your current friends and followers and see whom they’re connected with. Those friend-of-a-friend connections are very likely to be relevant to you—you already have something in common (your friend).

To find even more like-minded people, join communities and attend Google hangout events on topics you’re interested in. Just about every hangout has great conversations going on, so join in and make some connections. When the event is over, vet the people you really liked and put them in a new circle called HOA.

#5: Focus on Visibility to Connect

If you’re waiting for someone in particular to notice you, you may be waiting for a while. Not because the person doesn’t like you or doesn’t think you’d be a great asset to their business, but because they don’t know about you. You haven’t made yourself visible to them.

You can fix that, but there’s a right way and a wrong way. The mistake some people make is not taking the time to cultivate a relationship before they start asking for something. First contact has to be handled more delicately than that.

Listen to the people you want to connect with. Help them become familiar with you by consistently giving +1s, resharing their content (don’t forget to plus mention them!) and being active in their comment section.

I not only shared this post, I tagged the person who brought it to my attention.

When you’ve established visibility, there are a few ways you can connect with the influencer: a private message, a chat message or a private hangout (and there are pros and cons to each).

My favorite option is a private message because it’s easy—the other person gets an alert and clicks through to your message. However, if your target is an influencer, understand that he or she may be overloaded with notifications and can’t acknowledge every message.

A real-time conversation via chat is always a great way to communicate with active Google+ members. But some people may be very busy and can’t talk because they’re in the middle of something. Don’t be offended if they don’t answer.

Hangouts are a very useful tool when you want to talk with someone for the first time. Facial expressions and tone of voice have a lot of influence on how we converse with others. When you have a text-only conversation, nuances are lost. Sometimes what you say in text is misconstrued—especially if the person doesn’t know you or your humor yet. A face-to-face meeting with someone can fix that problem and most people are willing to meet with you this way.

Final Thoughts

Building relationships with a Google+ network takes time. You have to be truly invested in your followers and the people you look up to. Transform your thinking from “It’s all about me” to “It’s all about them.”

Offer help or advice to the people around you. Relationship marketing isn’t about your agenda or endgame; it’s about finding out what someone else’s agenda is, and helping them meet their goals.

This week, reach out and talk to a new person on Google+ every day. Don’t just hang out in the comment stream with them; use one of the options above. Introduce yourself and start asking them questions about themselves. I’m confident you’ll build some important relationships this week!

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Your Customers Are Waiting For You On Social Media. Are You There For Them?

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

In 2014, the online presence for our small business MUST go beyond having a web page with a few pretty pictures, a couple of articles, a storefront, and our business contact information.

A millennial once told me: "Nobody goes looking for information on websites any more. They all hang out on social media and wait for the information to come to them."

A great example of this is a post I noticed on a local Facebook group the other day, which said, "Is there any place in [City X] that's hiring?"

Once upon a time, such a tactic would have seemed ludicrous. What about the classifieds in the local paper, or online job sites like or even Craigslist? Surely, typing a query into a search engine is easy enough, right? But this up-and-coming "feed me" mentality is what we're all going to be facing as small business owners. Potential customers and clients don't want to make the effort to search for themselves any more; they simply ask a quick question on social media and wait for the answers to come to them. And if we business owners aren't on social media, ready to feed them the answers, they'll go elsewhere. 

We old farts may not like it. We may roll our eyes, tsk-tsk about "the laziness of these stupid kids" and mentally dismiss them as "losers". But this is how our future customers are going to be getting what they want. And if we want their money, we'd better wake up.

Add to this fact that Google has become greedy for fresh, relevant content to boost web page rankings in its search results, and we realize that, as small business owners, we can no longer ignore social media and ongoing content creation in our online marketing strategies.

We can either scoff at it or adapt to it. 

Adapting is always more profitable.

Our customers are waiting for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media outlets.

There are social media mavens, bloggers, and online marketers lined up at our front doors, either waiting to do the legwork for us or teach us how to do it ourselves.

All we need to do is say "yes".

Have you joined the 21st century as a small business?

Or are you still stuck in 1998, thinking that a stagnant, obsolete website is online presence enough?

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Are you afraid of social media?

By Katie McMurray

It doesn't pay to be apprehensive about one of the most important communication channels available to business.

I went to a business breakfast this week and came away with business cards of ten business owners. Today I looked up their websites. Not one had a Twitter account and only two were blogging. One business was seven years old and their website was deactivated.

Yet all of them (and I) got up at 5.30am to have breakfast with a room full of strangers. Everyone was given 30 seconds (which was strictly timed) to stand up and talk about their business.

There’s plenty of excitement and hype around social media and digital channels. Yes we are all self-publishers, yes we can speak directly to our market and clients via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, You Tube, newsletter and blogs.

There’s a mad rush from one direction. It’s web developers wanting to give you all the apps, tabs and widgets you’ll ever need to be part of digital and social media. And there’s a mad rush from another direction. It’s copywriters and marketers wanting to make clips and write blogs for you.

And in the middle I see you, the business owner. I sense your unspoken fear. It’s a fear of ruining your business reputation in a blog or Tweet. It’s a fear of not having anything meaningful to say. It’s a fear of being wrong or disagreed with. And it’s scarier than getting up at 5.30am to give a 30 second spruik at a business breakfast.

It would seem from my micro-survey of ten businesses that the most common outcome of these fears is business owners are ignoring social and digital space altogether. Not only did these businesses not have Twitter or blogs. None offered a newsletter or any way to keep in touch (except to email them).

Another outcome of the fear of digital and social platforms is to use them only while wearing a safety mask. I say masks because I believe businesses and business owners hide. They hide behind boring information, they hide behind corporate designs and colours and some hide behind ghost writers and marketing assistants who writing their blogs and newsletters.

And that’s why it’s called content. It’s treated as stocking filler.

If you’re treating these spaces as opportunities to stuff words with little purpose, your words will indeed do little for you. And if you’re ignoring these opportunities because your fear is that words will get you into trouble, your silence will also do nothing for you.

As a writer, a publicist and a reader, I’m a big fan of written and spoken words used with intent. As the business owner your thinking and writing can play a powerful role in positioning and communicating the business. And if you're treating blogging as mere 'content', you’re ignoring the insights and legacy your deeper thoughts could offer clients and the industry.

And if you’re not communicating at all, you’re mute in a marketplace much bigger than a business breakfast.

Katie McMurray is founder of KatieMac Publicity. Connect @KatieMac00

Get online marketing updates on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to Integrate Online and Offline Communities

A couple of days late, but definitely not even a penny short! Brilliant post! ~ Catharine Symblème

By Laura Petrolino

Two hundred and thirty eight years ago today, the legal separation of the 13 colonies with Great Britain occurred.

The Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution of independence (woohoo America!).

Two days later, after much revision and debate, the Declaration of Independence(which I used to be able to recite word-for-word when I was in the third grade) was approved (important history geek note: The actual signing date is a source of much debate, but let’s just go with the 4th for tradition’s sake).

This led to the celebration of fireworks, retail sales, and men walking around on stilts dressed up like good ole’ Uncle Sam.

Had this whole event occurred in today’s world, we no doubt would have first heard of the separation via the Twittersphere.

@tjefferson or @jadams would have tweeted something poetic and memorable, which in turn would be re-tweeted and favorited a zillion times.

Instagram would be ablaze with duck-faced photos of girls across America wearing really skimpy red, white, and blue bikinis.

Some random teenagers on Facebook would be asking why we separated from Ireland.

LinkedIn would probably shut down as a result of mass disconnection from business colleagues across the pond and Google+ would be filled with keyword specific updates.

Social Changes Everything

Social media has changed the world. It not only affects how you market your business, but how you DO business.

While many businesses have added some type of digital outreach to their communications, few have successfully integrated it into everything they do.

I recently read a Forrester statistic that said by 2017, $1.8 trillion worth of sales will be “web-influenced.” This doesn’t include the $370 billion of e-commerce sales (together that makes up 60 percent of retail sales).

This is web-influenced alone. So, someone is inspired to buy from you offline based on something they see, hear, or observe online.

That’s huge, and it means you have to make the connection – for your team, for your consumer, and for your community – between your online and your offline activities.

You need to motivate your online viewer to connect with you offline and your offline viewer to connect with you online.

You need to understand how your online and offline customer service can work together to provide the ultimate customer experience.

And you need to be consistent in your branding and messaging throughout.

So where do you start?

Online and Offline Can Work Together

Often the biggest missing piece businesses face is providing their offline community opportunities to connect with them online and vice versa. Looking at how you can find ways to do so is an easy starting point for this type of integration.

First think about the why: Why would someone that already connects with you one way be motivated to do so another way as well?

What do you provide online that you don’t provide offline?
  • Greater customer service?
  • Quicker response time?
  • More detailed educational materials?

What do you provide offline you don’t provide on?
  • In person contact?
  • Better product demos?
  • Better user need analysis?
Once you’ve developed your differentiation points, start strategically placing calls-to-action in your content and social updates that help one community understand the benefit of being part of the other as well.

Oh, and small detail, you need to actually make it worthwhile for them. Otherwise they might just decide to limit their connection with you everywhere, since you destroyed that layer of trust.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate set-up. It can be very simple, straight forward, and clean. It just needs to provide value.

Strategic Thinking Brings Communities Online and Off

We have a client who attends a lot of trade shows. This is a major source of leads for them and a place where they can connect in person with prospective buyers.

Other than adding them to their email list, however, they were having troublebringing these connections into their online community (which consists of a well-written and targeted blog, other useful content such as white papers, engaging social networks, and an informative email newsletter).

We started working to think of ways they could do just that. What motivation could they provide these offline connections to take the next step and join them online (which obviously would be extremely useful for further nurturing and engaging with them during the sales cycle).

Some of the ideas we put in place:

  • Contests based on checking in on Facebook, trade show tweets mentioning them, or other engaging and often educationally focused set-ups.
  • Specific follow-up emails that provided additional potentially useful links based on the trade show focus and prospect demographic.
  • Requesting their top questions and answering them in the blog.
  • Special access downloads to white papers targeted to their interests.
Likewise, this client had a great online community and active blog readership, but these connections often sat ignorant of their trade show activities. The chance to be part of this real life experience, working with the sales team, and seeing the product in action could be just what many in their online community wanted (and needed to convert to buyers).

So we decided to test out a weekly blog post during trade show season that would discuss best tips, tricks, and advice from the trade show floor within the context of the shows they were attending. It would then provide a list of their upcoming shows and ways to connect with them in person.

Having a social business means more than just sending tweets and writing blog posts. It means changing the way you look at what you do and how you engage with your customers everywhere.

How have you worked to integrate your online and offline operations?

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Following us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Capitalizing on social media to grow your business

What social media channels are most appropriate to reach target customers? Photograph: Getty
By Sara Benwell

A host of PR and marketing strategies exist for building customer awareness, but one area often overlooked is social media.

For many small businesses, expensive advertising campaigns or big, splashy PR stunts simply aren't an option. This means that in the initial phases, business owners are faced with a challenge: how to build the brand awareness your company needs while keeping costs down?

There are a number of efficient PR and marketing strategies that companies can implement to build awareness among their target customers, but one area that is often overlooked by small businesses, or executed poorly, is social media. Social media, when used strategically, can give you direct engagement with many of your target audiences. Twitter now has grown to 241 million monthly active users, while Facebook has 1.2 billion members. Obviously, for those companies starting out, these channels give access to vast numbers of people, whether it's to raise awareness, create engagement or drive revenues.

The possibilities presented by social media channels are endless, but how can businesses ensure that they use them in the right way, to support their business objectives, rather than wasting time and resources to no end? It is all too easy to think "we need to be on social media" and not get any further than that. Unsurprisingly, however, a successful social media platform needs a strong strategy behind it, if it's going to generate results.

Like much communication, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some basic questions that companies can ask themselves about creating relevant and engaging strategies.

Who am I trying to reach?

This might sound obvious, but too many businesses launch into social media without thinking about what they want to get out of it. Unsurprisingly, this rarely yields results. Instead, companies need to think about what they are trying to achieve, and work out their strategy from there. A key part of this is understanding your audience. Are you a business-to-business brand trying to reach CEOs, or are you a consumer brand whose main customers will be mothers? Do you have secondary audiences such as regulators, journalists or NGOs? Establish clearly who your primary and secondary audiences are.

What channels are most appropriate to reach these people?

It's important to think carefully about what channels are most appropriate for your key audiences. If you're a B2B brand, for instance, you may find that you have limited success using Facebook. Equally if teenagers are your target audience, LinkedIn might not be the most appropriate channel. So often when considering social media, people just assume that they need to be on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but even though these are the most common channels they may not be the most relevant. Also, remember that if you have niche audiences, other appropriate platforms may prove more fruitful.

What kind of content will they care about?

It's a rare consumer who loves being constantly bombarded with marketing content, yet when you look at many corporate channels, this is exactly what you find. Think about the kind of people you're trying to reach and what interests them. Will they be more interested in visual content? News articles? Fun facts? Have a look at companies that have been successful in engaging similar audiences and see what has worked for them. Also make sure that you get the balance right between content that talks about your company and content that engages on a broader basis.

How much time do I want to dedicate to this?

Real social media marketing takes dedication, time and resources, and there is no point having channels if you don't use them. Radio silence probably won't lose you followers, fans or viewers, but it won't gain you any either, and it won't achieve your objectives. In order to make social media work, you need to make sure that its value and importance is communicated internally and that time each day is set aside for your channels. Think about who is responsible as well. Will it be you doing the tweeting, or will it be someone else's responsibility? If the answer is someone else's, you need to make sure that it sits within their core objectives, rather than being seen as an additional pull on their time, which can drop off the priority list when people get busy.

How can I track success?

In order to establish whether your new social media strategy is successful, it's important to define what success looks like. It's often helpful to look beyond statistics such as follower and fan numbers, to more sophisticated metrics like engagement. Many social media channels have in-built methods to help with this evaluation, but also consider online tools such as which can track how many people click on your links and Google Analytics which can track where traffic to your website is coming from.

Organisations that answer these five questions when formulating their strategies will be in a much better position to reach their audiences in a manner that generates positive business results. For every company the style and channels used for social media outreach will be different, but by following these steps businesses should be able to build awareness and reputation among their key audiences, while keeping costs to a minimum. Most of all though, companies need to remember to be engaging, human and relevant, rather than just using their "owned" channels to push out free corporate marketing messages.

Sara Benwell is a senior consultant at Sermelo. You can follow her on Twitter @sarabenwell

Get online marketing suggestions on your favorite social media newsfeed by Liking us on Facebook; Following us on Twitter, or Circling us on Google Plus. 

You can also get online marketing suggestions delivered to your email inbox by signing up right here on Symblème Services Online!